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‘My cinema is about damnation!’ June 11, 2008

Posted by nitinkarani in English, Sexuality & Gender, Times of India.
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Interview the Sudipto Chattopadhyay, director of unreleased ‘Pankh’, from The Times of India, 10 June 2008:

10 Jun 2008, 0000 hrs IST,TNN

‘My cinema is about damnation!’

Why risk yourself with Pankh? How did Pankh take flight?
This phenomenon is peculiar and common in children from the film industry. Cross dressing is a prevalent phenomenon here and parents vicariously want to fulfil their dreams through their wards. In the process, the children’s psyche is affected.

Pankh pushes the envelope. My film is about sexuality misconstrued, it is the story of a boy who is paraded as a girl. He hates it and yet his persona becomes far more important than him. It is all about his struggle to denounce that and assert his heterosexuality.

Sexuality has always been a taboo in Indian films. Why rake it up?

Pankh does not attempt to sensationalise any taboo subject. It only talks about the plight of an individual caught in the crossfire. My hero Jerry is not confused about his sexual preference but the world is. That is his angst.

How did Sanjay Gupta agree to do this film?

My friend Rohit Roy flipped when he heard the script and said Sanjay Gupta is the only person to support this film. Gupta gave me a 20 min narration and at the end of it he jumped up and said “I’m signing you as my director for this film.” I owe everything to Sanjay for helping me make my dream come true.

How did you cast ‘Jerry’ and ‘Salim’?

I went through several thousand photographs and by chance as an afterthought, I asked my production to get in touch with this guy. Amongst the 250 aspirants I short listed him, but there was a huge stumbling block. I knew Maradona Rebello was my Jerry but he freaked out when I narrated the script to him. I coaxed and cajoled Maradona, spoke to his parents and teacher and thankfully they saw the bigger picture. He literally dropped like a fruit from the wild. So did my other actor Amit Purohit who plays the second lead in my film. I was devastated by his audition. He believed in me and just surrendered. This guy is going to rock.

How did Lillette Dubey and Bipasha Basu come into the picture?

Seamlessly. They both saw Maradona and Amit and said if these guys can do it, we can do it too. Thankfully they both felt challenged as actors.

How disturbed are people going to be?

My cinema is not one of redemption. It’s about damnation. People are going to react violently to this film. It’s more like they’ll love to hate it.

Are you scared?

No. I want this film to hold a mirror to life and get out of all the s*** we are burdened with. Pankh is a catharsis. It will compel the viewer to look at life with a different perspective.

Will it be as controversial as Fire?

Compared to Pankh , Fire was namby-pamby. Fire addressed a very simplistic view on lesbianism. Pankh is about gender crisis. Fire was about same gender sex under duress. Pankh is heterosexual to the core. Though it addresses gender issue it does not dilute it with piety of acceptance. My Jerry and Salim (Amit) are not homosexual men. They are just creatures of circumstance.

How did Bipasha fit into the scheme of things?

In this film, Bipasha plays Jerry’s alter-ego. She is not a human being, but a diva who lives only in Jerry’s fantasy. Bipasha understood the need and fulfilled that need. She never ever questioned her character as most Hindi film stars would do. She just understood the sensitivity and gave it a face.

An extract from an earlier interview – 11 January 2008 – to the same publication, which provides some context:

So, what sort of research went into the making of this film?
I have drawn inspiration from Dilip Ghosh’s documentary titled Children Of The Silver Screen . He has interviewed child artistes who have now grown up and put across their trauma. I have spoken to quite a few of them for my film.

Will you be mentioning their names in the credits?
That wouldn’t be fair.